“The Integrated Homestead”
As said at the beginning of this article, there are compelling reasons to grow more of our own food, in our own backyards (or seek it out from like-minded neighbors close by). Food safety in the supermarket is an increasingly hazardous game of Russian roulette; and it is ever more obvious that we must look to ourselves for the safety of our food—there is little reason to hope our government will improve its sorry performance anytime soon.
Industrial food—debased through excessive processing and contaminated with agricultural toxins and chemical additives—is a growing threat to our health, as indicated by soaring rates of cancer, heart disease, obesity—and, in children, degenerative illnesses previously thought the exclusive real estate of the very old. Despite its problems, the production of such food is part and parcel of the very foundations of our economy, and is not likely to change…
Until the oil runs out. I recently read a careful study from Germany to the effect that global oil production has already peaked—in 2006—and that we can expect a decline of 7 percent per year from here on out. Our exploitation of “the remains of ancient sunlight” to fuel an economy on steroids is a one-time event in human history, a gigantic spike over a relatively flat line graphing energy use in the past—and in the future. The shrinking of global oil and natural gas supplies will be the major event of our time. (And I say that as someone who was born during the Second World War.)
As our global crises converge, we are all appalled at how helpless we are to make a difference. Producing our food in ways that are more nurturing and sustainable, however, will unquestionably ameliorate to some degree any global crisis you want to name.
But fear is caustic, it gets in the way. Yes, I hope you will be a bit frightened as you face some of the real challenges to putting decent food on your family’s table, and of keeping them safe in a changing world. But I hope that your motivation for continuing will be positive, not negative.
Our alienation from the living world has become a deep sickness, and we will never find health as long as we stay largely within the artificial environments we have created. Working with the fellow beings in our backyard ecology—fungal, microbial, plant, animal—we relearn the beauty of simple things. We reclaim our birthright, reestablish cherished alliances with forgotten friends. We reenter the cycling of the natural year, recognize and honor the presence and needs of species other than ourselves, greet with affection the spirit in every vine and bee and thistle and wren.
Working in our gardens, we step again into the Garden, teeming with life and dazzling with beauty beyond measure. And heed once again the command of the Creator, who charged us to love and care for it, to keep it as Garden, not wasteland.
This concludes my presentation of the core ideas for an “integrated homestead.” Refer to the Resources section for links to more information; sources for tools, equipment, and seeds; helpful organizations; book reviews—even a new In the Kitchen subsection with some of our favorite recipes.